Over the past decade, since the adoption of No Child Left Behind and the introduction of Race to the Top, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon: a proliferation of businesses that “consult” with schools, school districts, and states.
It started slowly, and then it mushroomed. I remember when NCLB started, and overnight there were hundreds of tutoring firms created to offer supplementary services. Some of these firms had never tutored anyone before, but they got clients by offering prizes and cash inducements to principals to send them students. Some of them submitted inflated bills. Some of them should never have been approved in the first place. See here and here and here and here and here.
Every time a new federal program was launched, a new bunch of private-sector consultants popped up to get a piece of the pie.
Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grants were a new jackpot or honeypot for consultants. In Denver, consultants raked in 35 percent of the federal dollars in School Improvement Grants targeted for the district. Think of it: 35 percent allocated by Congress to help schools improve–and it went to consultants. Did it do any good? Do Denver school officials lack the capacity to know what to do?
There are “turnaround” consultants who make millions even though they have never turned around a school in their life. There are consultants to tell districts how to implement the Common Core, and consultants to tell them how to do most anything and everything. This is big business.
I have seen evaluations of the NCLB supplementary education services programs that said they didn’t make a difference. Secretary Duncan said recently that tutoring “doesn’t work.” That’s not quite right. Sending kids to be tutored by unregulated fly-by-night private corporations doesn’t work. It is counter-intuitive to conclude that tutoring doesn’t work. It works if the teacher is experienced at the job of tutoring.
All of this leads me to wonder: When people say “we spend enough on education,” “we spend too much on education,” shouldn’t we be cutting out the consultants? Shouldn’t we cut the spending on the corporations that exist to tell principals and teachers how to do their jobs? If we hired good people from the get-go, why do they need to bring in consultants anyway?
So here is a thought: First, we need someone to do the research and create a database (yes, a database) of all the consultants who are fattening at the trough of public education, as well as a way of evaluating their track record; second, we need to know how much of our education spending is diverted to these corporations; third, if budget cuts happen, they should be the first to go–not the arts, not kindergarten, not guidance counselors, not school nurses, not librarians, and certainly not teachers.